Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Coming Thursday Friday....

Miami Herald photographer Tim Chapman, left, and St. Petersburg Times writer Jeff Klinkenberg

St. Petersburg Times writer and storyteller extraordinaire Jeff Klinkenberg, right, has written a story about Tim Chapman, left, legendary photographer for the Miami Herald these past 37 years.

His story about Tim -- who he calls "the toughest Florida son-of-a-bitch alive" -- will be online tomorrow Friday and in the St. Petersburg Times on Sunday.

Writes Jeff: "and have you ever wondered who might have inspired Carl Hiaasen to create his wonderful wild man, Skink?"

Read it online now at the St. Petersburg Times!

Fidel Castro...Miami New Times cover boy

Exactly sixteen years ago - in September of 1993 - then Miami New Times editor Jim Mullin called me with an assignment.

Jim doesn't chit-chat a lot and this call wasn't any different; but I did sense that he was a little more wound-up than usual.

And as it would turn out - a little more paranoid than usual. Jim is like that; always looking over his shoulder fearing that the Miami Herald is about to steal his next big story.

But on this day a new issue of the paper was getting ready to hit the streets.

And Jim had a feeling that some of the less tolerant folks in Miami's Cuban community might not like the cover story and the way it depicted then Miami city commissioner Miriam Alonso.

Jim thought that some might actually try to sabotage New Times racks or (gasp!) try to steal all of the papers.

My assignment was simple.

Drive over to the gleaming New Times Tower on Biscayne Boulevard, pick up a video camera and then go stake out a New Times rack somewhere in Little Havana.

Jim's fears were never realized. At the rack I watched, no one took more than one copy. As a matter of fact no one took any copies!

Jim's not the editor of New Times any longer.

Former Miami Herald reporter Chuck Strouse took his place at the helm a few years ago.

But Chuck may face the same problem this week that Mullin did 16 years ago.

A new issue of New Times has hit the streets.

Staff writer Tim Elfrink along with Vanessa Grisalez has crafted an interesting piece on the migration of Cuba's black market economy into cyber-space

But it's not the story that may upset some in Miami.

It's the cover.


So Chuck, you may want to have someone keep an eye on the rack at Calle Ocho and 36th Avenue.

You know the one that's right there in front of the Versailles.

And especially keep an eye on the viejitos in front.

They might not like that stunning portrait of The Bearded One being displayed for an entire week in front of their sacred hang out.

After all, you know only too well that newspapers the Peña del Versailles don't agree with have a way of disappearing.

And that would be too bad.

Because if they take the time and look past the cover, they'll read a fascinating story of the tenacity, resilience and perseverance that's practiced every day by Cubans still on the island.

Elfrink tells the story of a couple of Cubans who are actually making a difference and attempting in a small way to loosen the Castro brother's stranglehold on Cuba and its people.

The piece revolves around Jose Rodriguez and Juan Sanchez (pseudonyms), who founded and now operate Cuba's version of eBay, Revolico.com.
During the long, sweltering summer of 1997, a friend introduced the two 16-year-olds to a middleman with an original Pentium computer. They were fascinated. Personal computers were forbidden. Jose and Juan bought it for a few dollars.

"We were like many others in Cuba," Jose says. "The computer interested us because it was foreign and modern."

The two disassembled the hard drive and put it back together. A few weeks later, they bought a keyboard. Days after that, they purchased a grainy black-and-green pixel monitor. "We started with this outdated trash, and we taught ourselves how it all worked," Jose says.
...
Around 2003, Jose joined an email list that circulated among his hacker pals and back-alley electronics sellers around the capital. A few days later, he bought a hard drive someone advertised in one of the emails.
...
Jose and Juan decided to organize the email lists by product. One list was for computers, another for cars. But there was just too much. The lists, Jose decided, had become a revolico — a big mess.

So in December 2007, the two friends — both done with college and working as programmers — built a website for all the ads. Jose modeled it on Craigslist, a site he'd studied at the university.
Another reason the old men in front of the Versailles might not like this issue of New Times is because it tells a story of Cubans who are actually trying to bring change in a tangible way to Cuba.

But that's lost on the old men who linger daily in front of the Versailles, talking about change in Cuba. And they do nothing but talk.

They think that change will only come to Cuba if they smash a few more CDs or, perhaps, steal some newspapers.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Rating Miami's TV station web sites

Some recent visits to local TV station web sites have revealed that all web sites are definitely not created equal.

What follows is my (totally subjective) analysis of Miami's Big 4 local English language TV station web sites.

Your mileage may vary.

  • CBS4.com

    Capsule review: For serious news junkies...loaded with content.

    Layout and design: Clean and functional. Gimmick-free.

    I visit CBS4.com quite often.

    I loved the fact that earlier this month the station posted the unedited video of Miami Dade mayor Carlos Alvarez's almost hour-long rant against the Miami Herald.

    Another feature I like are the "Web columns" by commentator Jim DeFede. Jim is arguably Miami's best newsman and every now and then he offers up incontrovertible proof of why the Herald made a big mistake when it fired him.

    This site also scores points because no matter what page you're on, a menu of links to all of the site's other pages is always viewable in the left-hand column.
    *****

  • WSVN.com

    Capsule review: If it bleeds; it leads.

    Layout and design: Sparse but functional. A minimal amount of bells and whistles.

    Come on...you know you love 7NEWS!

    We still have fond memories of Rick Sanchez's Crime Check.

    But Rick - "I Needed a Drink To Steady My Nerves" - Sanchez, left WSVN years ago and has now morphed into a bizarre caricature of his Newsplex persona at CNN....

    And who can forget Sally Fitz, who firmly planted herself in Miami's Urban Legend annals with a late night call to paramedics. (If you have to ask what that means, then you don't need to know!)

    'SVN's site is the police blotter of local TV station web sites.

    Like the station's newscasts, there's not a whole lot of coverage of foreign policy and health care.

    If you're looking for that stuff...try PBS!

    This is down and dirty, in-your-face-behind-the-yellow-tape TV journalism.
    *****


  • JustNews.com

    Capsule review: Just who came up with the name JustNews?

    Layout and design: Cookie-cutter layout. Absolutely no attempt was made to create the illusion that this site is actually produced and maintained by people who live in Miami.

    I don't stop by here often. See above comments for the reason why.
    *****


  • NBCMiami.com

    Capsule review: This site is to TV station web sites what Ishtar was to Hollywood, the Titanic to the cruise industry and the Hindenburg to air travel. This place is a disaster!

    Layout and design: Corporate cookie cutter.

    A visit to this site few days ago was the inspiration for this post.

    I usually visit NBC Miami's site only when I see a link elsewhere that interests me.

    And that's a good thing.

    Original reporting and fresh ideas appear to be in short supply at NBC Miami.

    A recent visit to the site turned up four stories that originated from either the Sun-Sentinel or Miami Herald; like this story. Or this.

    But NBC Miami's main problem appears to be one of credibility.

    And people are starting to notice.

    Back in August CBS4 meteorologist David Bernard - in an unheard of move in Miami TV circles - slammed competitor NBC Miami's "flippant approach" to a story on hurricanes.

    A story that was later edited several times after Bernard's critique.

    One local blogger calls NBC Miami, "the place to find....non-news in Miami."

    And then there was the time that NBC Miami completely fabricated a story! NBC Miami's editor Jessica Sick later explained the foul-up. But the damage to their credibility had already been done.

    In response to an email query from Random Pixels about her site's heavy use of material gleaned from other sources, Jessica Sick responded:
    The idea of the news site is to be a news "curator" for our visitors/readers. We pick the stories we think they would be most interested in reading, whether it be from the Herald, the Sentinel, the AP, blogs, and national media outlets that may have done a story on something SoFla-related.

    The only 'original' reporting comes from our station, WTVJ, and other NBC affiliates. We also have original writing (I wouldn't call it reporting) for our Around Town section -- shopping, events around town, galleries."
    A "news curator?"

    So, how bad is NBC Miami?

    I'll answer that by paraphrasing Miami Herald TV critic Glenn Garvin: "This site is so bad it will make you regret being born with eyes. I'm saying Osama bin Laden, if he sees it, will weep bitter tears of frustration that he went after the wrong American city."

    Any questions?
  • Monday, September 28, 2009

    Mayoral candidate Tomas Regalado has links to a convicted terrorist


    Miami New Times has an interesting post on its Riptide 2.0 blog by staff writer Tim Elfrink.

    Elfrink writes that Miami mayoral candidate Tomas Regalado once held a fundraiser in 1983 for a man later convicted of terrorism and sentenced to life in federal prison.



    A search of Miami Herald archives backs up Elfrink's story:
    $21,000 RAISED FOR ALLEGED TERRORIST
    Miami Herald, The (FL) - Wednesday, September 7, 1983
    Author: HERALD STAFF

    A weekend fund-raiser for Eduardo Arocena , the alleged leader of the terrorist anti-Castro group Omega 7, netted about $21,000 in donations and pledges, organizers of the drive said Tuesday.

    The organizers want to use the money to hire a private attorney for Arocena , who was arrested in Little Havana last July. Arocena , now in a New York jail, is charged with the interstate transportation of explosives and with the attempted assassination of the Cuban delegate to the United Nations.

    A total of $18,414.10 was collected Saturday, said Tomas Regalado , Jr., news director of WRHC radio, a sponsor of the drive. Some $3,000 more was pledged, Regalado said.
    However Elfrink reports that a spokesman for Regalado denies he ever held a fundraiser for Arocena.
    "Commissioner Regalado has never planned nor held a fundraiser for Mr. Arocena," says Eric Duran, a spokesman for Miami's longest serving commissioner, who was first elected in 1996.
    Elfrink notes that it's unlikely that Regalado's coziness with Arocena will cost him votes.
    "In the town where noted anti-Castro terrorists Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles are still walking free - and hailed as heroes by some - it's not as if supporting Arocena would cost Regalado too many votes."
    Or as one former journalist wrote in an email to Random Pixels: "Please. In this town, funding a terrorist/freedom fighter is practically a job requisite."

    Arocena is still in prison despite efforts a few years ago by supporters to have him pardoned by former president George W. Bush.


    Saturday, September 26, 2009

    Miami's best street food

    Robert Moehling, owner of Robert is Here fruit stand in Florida City

    Only in Miami is great barbecue served up in the parking lot of a strip club and finding the best fruit stand requires a trip to the edge of the Everglades.

    Gourmet magazine has compiled a short list of what it says are Miami's best street food vendors.

    I'm posting it here because it looks like some thought actually went into its preparation.

    It's a good list although the writer mistakenly says that the taco cart at NW 15th St & NW 27th Ave. is in Coral Gables.

    And I'm not sure why the always overpriced and very mediocre David's Cafe on Meridian Ave. in Miami Beach was included.

    But the rest of the list is worth a peek.

    Two of Gourmet's spot-on recommendations include “Fat Man” Benjamin Nelson's barbecue truck in the parking lot of the Take One Cocktail Lounge on NE 79th St. "Absurdly tender ribs alongside fried chicken, grilled tilapia, and shrimp, with a rotating cast of sides including corn on the cob, seasonal vegetables, and zingy lemon cake."

    And of course, all of us long-time South Floridians have always known about the Robert is Here fruit stand in Florida City. It's been in the same spot for almost 50 years but sometimes seems as though it was there even before the alligators.

    Robert's is about 25 miles south of Kendall. But it's worth the trip.

    Friday, September 25, 2009

    Late night blues...Friday edition


    The incomparable B.B. King sings and plays Lucille

    Ten minutes and 13 seconds of pure blues genius!

    From the album, "Lucille"

    Thursday, September 24, 2009

    Bits and pieces



    A few seemingly unrelated items caught my eye today:
  • Figures released on Tuesday show the Miami Herald's web traffic for August is up 89% over August a year ago.

  • The executive editor of the Tallahassee Democrat, Bob Gabordi, told his readers today that a major investigative piece planned for Sunday's paper won't be available online: "The story will appear in Sunday’s Tallahassee Democrat print edition.

    "That’s all I’m going to tell you about it for now, except to say don’t look for it on Tallahassee.com. It won’t be here.

    "We want to keep Sundays special for our print-edition readers, who pay extra for the newspaper and deserve more."
  • I found Gabordi's comments interesting in light of the fact that last Sunday's page one story in the Herald - "The priest, the stripper, and their baby" - was available online as early as the Friday evening before its publication on Sunday.

    It appears that the people who run the Miami Herald and the Tallahassee Democrat have differing opinions on how best to distribute their content.

    Apparently the Democrat is still betting on the future of the print product while the Herald is trying everything to goose their web traffic.

    But at some point more and more Herald subscribers are going to notice that the online story they read free of charge the night before, is in the morning paper that they pay for.

    Many subscribers have already figured that out.

    New circulation figures for the nation's daily newspapers are due to be released at the end of next month.

    Barring a miracle, the Herald's daily circulation will likely dip below 200,000.

    Perhaps what one industry analyst wrote a year ago bears repeating:
    "One big reason the numbers are declining is the product itself. In the last year, we've seen unprecedented cuts in the product -- and the customers are noticing. It looks like the amount of newsprint is down about 10-15%; some in stories, some in ads. Trusted bylines have disappeared overnight. Readers notice, and talk to their friends, and they're saying: it's not the newspaper it used to be. When the subscription notices come, they're a little less likely to be acted upon."
    Lantana mayor David Stewart, who reads the Palm Beach Post has already decided where he'll get his news.

    When the Post raised subscription rates from $120 to $200 a year, he called the paper and asked why he should continue to pay for something he was reading online for free.

    After listening to the paper's answers he made a decision. He decided against renewing his subscription.

    I'm not sure how newspapers can hold onto paying print readers while they continue offering the same product online at no charge.

    And it's pretty obvious that the people who run newspapers don't have the answer either.

    Monday, September 21, 2009

    Lawsuit fever...it's contagious


    A few weeks ago some folks at the Miami Herald thought it would be fun to threaten me with a lawsuit.

    They wanted me to delete some Herald photos from my blog.

    I declined.

    But now Herald blogger Natalie McNeal - whose blog is called the "Frugalista Files" - has hired Chicago attorney Alexis Hart McDowell, Esq., to send cease and desist letters to bloggers who also call themselves "frugalistsas."

    Seems that McNeal has trademarked the name "frugalista."

    Must be something in the water at the Herald. Don't they have better things to do?

    We're not sure what the merits of McNeal's claim are.

    But we do like what Jose Duran at Miami New Times Riptide 2.0 blog had to say about it: "Somebody should serve her for being a boring blogger."

    Sunday, September 20, 2009

    A little piece of "Real Florida" not far from Miami


    St. Petersburg Times staff writer Jeff Klinkenberg, who is inarguably one of Florida's best newspaper storytellers, returns to the Everglades of his youth with with a wonderful story in today's paper of brothers Marshall and Keith Jones.
    "They are civilized wild men.

    "Marshall is more civilized than wild and Keith is more wild than civilized."
    The brothers run Mack's Fishing Camp in the Everglades just off US 27 near the Dade-Broward line.

    Klink - as he's sometimes called - started his newspaper career at the old Miami News when he was 16.

    He's been working for the St. Pete Times since 1977. His writing formula is simple: just tell interesting stories about the "real" people of Florida.

    When Klink's not writing newspaper stories he's writing books about Florida.

    His latest book, a collection of his favorite columns - Pilgrim in the Land of Alligators - is available now.

    And if you liked the story of the Jones brothers, I'm told that Klink may be working on a story about another "real" Floridian who's a little closer to home....right here in Miami as a matter of fact.

    Stay tuned.

    Friday, September 18, 2009

    If I was in charge at the Herald....

    Unless you've been in a coma for the past couple of days, then you've probably heard about Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Alvarez's rambling, hour-long tirade yesterday against South Florida's Number One Information Source, the Miami Herald.

    Alvarez characterized the Herald's coverage of pay raises given to top Miami-Dade cops and firefighters as "biased."

    Alvarez also couldn't resist taking a shot at the Herald's poor financial standing, "How can you have a monopoly and be going bankrupt?"

    Good question Carlito!

    Perhaps the answer to your question can be found on the front page of today's Herald.


    There's no mention of your fine press conference, except for a sentence telling readers to turn to page 7A.

    Everyone in South Florida is talking about your attack on the Herald and they bury it on page 7A? WTF??

    I think you may be right about "bias."

    Now if I was the editor of the Herald, I would have given your press conference the coverage it deserved!

    Click image to enlarge

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    This just in.....

    EXCLUSIVE to Random Pixels / photo by BRENDA ROMAN

    CBS4 anchor Eliott Rodriguez makes a a bare handed catch off Mark Teixeira's foul ball at Blue Jays/Yankees game in New York Tuesday night!

    Film at 11!

    The Herald's Myriam Marquez turns in some sloppy 'journalism'



    The Miami Herald's Myriam Marquez sat down at her computer in the paper's fifth floor newsroom last week to write a column for Sunday's paper.

    Her finished piece - 554 words - can best be summed up in just eight: Mayor Manny Diaz, good - Mayor Carlos Alvarez, bad.

    Marquez's column can hardly be described as cerebral or studious. And it's certainly not journalism. The time she spent writing that column probably would have been better utilized had she wandered around Bayside for an hour looking at tchotchkes.

    The gist of Marquez's piece is that while Miami mayor Manny Diaz has had a few missteps in his two terms as Miami's mayor, he's basically a good guy.
    "Diaz is heading toward a strong finish."

    "His administration set out to digitally wire the city, build a new baseball stadium with Miami-Dade County picking up most of the tab and change the Magic City's future look with the Miami 21 zoning code that's pedestrian friendly. All while reducing the city's operating expenses the past two years by about $100 million to offset the foreclosure mess that left thousands of new condos empty."
    Miami Dade mayor Carlos Alvarez on the other hand - according to Marquez - "has not lived up to his promise as a reformer." That's it Myriam? What else is new?

    CBS 4's Jim DeFede gave this subject the treament it deserves in a web column posted on the station's web site Monday.

    DeFede, offers up a different view of Manny Diaz - and of Marquez's column.

    And he doesn't mince words.
    "It was a column about a good mayor and a bad mayor and in Myriam's view Manny Diaz is the good mayor."

    "Manny Diaz – the good mayor? Excuse me a second but while typing that last sentence I threw up a little bit."
    ...
    "Carlos Alvarez has made many, many mistakes. And I will address those in a few moments. But to praise Diaz is laughable. For those of us who have actually lived here during the Manny Diaz Era, his term cannot come to an end soon enough."
    ...
    "Manny Diaz was always style over substance. He had the slick appeal of a politician who knows how to read a poll or follow public opinion. He jumped on trends – like the move to turn the city more environmentally efficient – not because it was the right thing to do, but because it might get him national attention or an invite to the White House. Every move Manny Diaz has made or will make is a calculation designed to advance one person – Manny Diaz."
    Marquez's column is just one more glaring example of how far the quality of a once great newspaper has declined.

    Her column offered few facts and almost no new information on this complex subject.

    One has to wonder how much research Marquez did before writing that Diaz was headed for a "strong finish."

    From DeFede's column:
    "After his election in 2001, the mayor continued to be a partner in the seafood restaurant, even though it presented an obvious conflict of interest since the restaurant rented space from the city. Nevertheless, he kept his stake in Monty's."

    "Of course you would think – being as smart as he is – that Diaz would have made sure everything between Monty's and the city was above board and proper. But sure enough three years into his term, the public discovered the mayor's restaurant was behind almost $200,000 in rent payments to the city, that it owed the county nearly $100,000 in delinquent property taxes, and that it had stiffed the state almost $250,000 in sales tax payments."
    Marquez does have an excuse for the gaps in her reporting. The Herald's web site says that she's only worked at the paper since October, 2005. So I guess that's an excuse for not remembering much of Manny Diaz's checkered past.

    But there's always research Myriam.

    You might want to dabble in a little of that before you write your next column.

    Monday, September 14, 2009

    Random Pixels takes a tour of Miami

    Last week, Gus Moore, owner of the relatively new Miami Tour Company, invited me to take a tour of the city.

    (The company conducted its first tour 15 months ago in June of 2008. In that short time, Miami Tour Company has become the #1 most recommended Miami attraction on TripAdvisor.com)

    My first reaction to Gus's invitation was, "what is this guy thinking?"

    Doesn't he know that I've been living in South Florida for a half-century?

    And that for the past 25 years I've made my living as a photojournalist covering every major story in Miami?

    I started 25 years ago shooting pictures as "Scarface" was filmed on Ocean Drive.

    In the ensuing years I've covered hurricanes, crooked politicians, banana republic dictators, the Miami Dolphins, Hurricanes and Marlins, the disastrous first season of the Miami Heat, and of course, assorted murder and mayhem. And somewhere in there I shot pictures of a naked super star in '92 and covered the story of a little kid named Elian.

    I know my way around Miami.

    But the more I thought about Gus's offer, the more it made sense.

    After all, there was good chance that I might learn something new about this crazy place we call home.

    I told Gus that Friday was good for me. He took care of everything.

    He told me to meet the bus at the Whitelaw Hotel on 8th and Collins at 9:45am.

    Promptly at 9:45, a gleaming white bus pulled up and the doors swung open.


    Rickey the driver, greeted me with a thousand-watt smile, a firm handshake and the first of what was to be many snappy one-liners in his basso-profundo voice.

    "Mr. Cooke I presume? Are you related to Sam?"

    Game on!

    I took my seat and did a quick scan of my surroundings. Just about all of the bus's 30 or so comfy, ample seats were taken

    Rickey told us that for the next 3 and a half hours we would travel some 35 miles taking in some of Miami's more well-known and some not so well-known attractions and points of interest.

    As soon as we got started, a pleasant female voice - Rickey called her "Sonia" - began to narrate the tour reading from an expertly written script.

    As we traveled, "Sonia," ticked off facts as we passed various points of interest. I learned later that the recording was governed by a GPS device. Miami Tour Company is the only local tour company to offer this feature on its buses in five languages.

    Rickey - who is a retired movie production truck driver and a native Miamian - expertly guided the bus down Collins and then over to Washington Avenue where "Sonia" pointed out the Miami Beach Police Department where "they don't mess around," the art deco U.S. Post Office at 13th and Washington, Fienberg Fisher Elementary School where we learned that a scene for "Porky's" was filmed in the school's old gymnasium and the old Clay Hotel at Espanola Way where Al Capone once held court.

    Soon we made our way towards the Holocaust Memorial and then it was over to Ocean Drive and Casa Casauarina - or the Versace Mansion - where designer Gianni Versace was gunned down. "Sonia" informs us that after the White House, the Versace Mansion is the second most photographed house in the U.S.

    Next stop Clevelander Hotel; but at 10:15 in the morning it's looking pretty desolate. Not a drunk in sight!

    And then it's the News Cafe, where Versace ate breakfast the day he was murdered.

    A block later we pass the Beacon Hotel where the chainsaw scene for "Scarface" was filmed. I think I remember that!

    Minutes later we're cruising across the MacArthur Causeway passing Jungle Island and the Miami Herald.


    Then we make our way south on I-95 and over the Miami River that "Sonia" says is well-known not only for the millions of dollars in cargo transported up the river, but also for "its noxious smell and an occasional floating corpse."

    It's at this point I realize that the commentary probably wasn't screened by the Chamber of Commerce.

    Once we hit Coconut Grove we detour down a narrow street and see where Sylvester Stallone and Madonna once lived.

    A few minutes later we're sitting in the parking lot of the Fresh Market in Coconut Grove; a food store that to my untrained eye, makes Whole Foods on Miami Beach look like a 7-11.

    Everyone has a chance to get out and stock up on sandwiches and drinks.

    Back on the bus, as everyone grazes on snacks, Rickey deftly guides the bus through the streets and neighborhoods of the Old Grove and then over to one of my favorite sections: Sunset Drive shaded by massive banyan trees.

    Key West charm in Coconut Grove

    Soon we're slowly driving through some of the more pricey neighborhoods in Coral Gables. At one point we see what's described as the CIA's Top Secret Boat House in the 1960's. In Miami, you're never that far from intrigue!

    Secret CIA Boathouse!

    It's here that Rickey tells us to get our cameras ready; he's going to point out the home of another famous star. He jabs his finger in the direction of a massive house under construction...we wait to hear whose home this is: "That's my house!"

    Rickey gets his biggest laugh of the day. Even I fell for that one!

    We head north from Sunset and arrive at the Biltmore Hotel where everyone gets off to take pictures.

    It's here that I approach some of my fellow passengers and ask a few questions.

    John and Joel Faye are from Santa Fe, New Mexico and had a free day before leaving for South America for three weeks.

    Why did they pick this tour over all of the other tour companies? They tell me that the positive reviews on TripAdvisor.com that convinced them.

    Ditto for two groups of travelers from Great Britain.

    Jason, a banker from London says, "when you're thousands of miles away trying to decide which tour to take, the reviews are very helpful. I also liked the fact that people from the U.K. had positive things to say about the tour."

    A husband and wife also from Great Britain - who are traveling with three boys - echo his sentiments.

    From the Biltmore we head over to the Venetian Pool, a place - believe it not - I've never visited. I get off for some pictures of this historic jewel.

    Venetian Pool

    We're back on the bus and headed for Little Havana, stopping at Maximo Gomez Park...known to locals as Domino Park.

    Putting the 'domino theory' to the test

    We're also a block from a McDonald's and as we prepare to leave the bus is filled with the aroma of quarter-pounders and french fries.

    Making friends in Little Havana

    The last leg of the tour has us headed for Bayside where we'll leave some of our traveling companions. The rest of us will take a boat around Star Island on the aptly-named Island Queen.

    I've seen the Queen numerous times as it lazily circles Star Island. But this would be my first trip on it.

    The boat pulls way from the dock at Bayside promptly at 2pm and glides slowly through the water and offering some spectacular views of the downtown Miami skyline.



    And then we meander past the huge cargo cranes at the Port of Miami and make our way past Fisher Island.


    Then it's under the bridge and the start of the tour of the Star Island mansions that's narrated live by a crew member in both English and Spanish.

    The boat gets us so close to these multi-million dollar homes that at one point I was sure I could her the occupants of one home counting their money!

    We see the house that some say was Tony Montana's mansion in "Scarface"...it's right next to Rosie O'Donnell's home.

    Next up is Gloria and Emilio Estefan's spectacular spread followed by what used to be Shaquille O'Neal's crib.

    "Scarface" mansion

    Around the bend we see Fresh Prince Will Smith's house and a home that the crew member says is owned by the billionaire founder of IVAX, Dr. Phillip Frost. Frost is one of the richest men in the world and this house is worth a cool $48 million.

    Dr. Phillip Frost hangs out here

    We some other homes that belong to Ricky Martin, Paulina Rubio and Brazilian TV star Xuxa.

    We head back to Bayside, I ask some of traveling companions for their thoughts. The father of one of the British boys said his youngest son was impressed with Will Smith's house.

    John and Joel Faye from Santa Fe thought it was time well spent. "The entire tour gave us a good overview of Miami," said John.

    John and Joel Faye from Santa Fe, NM

    But what did I think?

    This was probably the most informative and relaxing 6 or 7 hours I've spent in a long time.

    I'd certainly recommend it to visitors, but it's a tour that year-round residents should take as well.

    Note to Gus: I'm glad I went!
    ...

    Today I asked Gus of Miami Tour Company a few questions. He responded by email.

    Q: How long has Miami Tour Company been operating...when was your first trip?

    A: Our first tour was in June of 2008.

    In the past 15 months, we've taken over 8,000 people on the City Tour and over 50,000 people on all of our trips: Key West, Orlando, and the Everglades.

    We have four driver/guides and five people who manage the reservations, including myself.

    It's a family business. My wife Michelle is the travel coordinator. My dad, Jim, and his girlfriend, Suzy, are driver/guides. And my mother-in-law is our bookkeeper.


    Q: I know that you planned this enterprise for a while? How long?

    A: Michelle and I started dreaming about making a Miami tour company, back in 2002.

    Parrot Jungle and Seaquarium didn't seem like enough, and they certainly didn't reflect the image people have about our city.

    I wanted to make something that was based around storytelling... Like an old school Disneyland ride, but instead of rolling around on a track, past animitronic puppets, put people inside a bus and show them the real thing. I figured, if we could combine interesting stories, with music that reflected the time and mood, people would be entertained.

    The tour was written by me, Matt Meltzer, and Doug Eames, with Maria de los Angeles and Tere, The Mommy Blogger, helping us edit.




    Quick facts about the Miami Tour Company:

  • In addition to the City Tour and Boat Cruise, visitors can also combine a City Tour with a trip to the Everglades or the Florida Keys.

  • Miami Tour Company also offers tours to Orlando.

  • All tours are fully guided.

  • Tours are conducted in English, Spanish, French, Italian and German.

  • The Miami Tour Company is TripAdvisor.com's highest-rated Miami attraction.

  • The City Tour and Boat Tour which I took is priced at $55 for an adult. For other rates click here and here.
  • Saturday, September 12, 2009

    Saturday night 60's flashback....Runaround Sue

    The making of Scarface and the "lost" images


    More than a quarter-century ago, in the spring of 1983, director Brian DePalma shot one of the more memorable scenes for his movie Scarface on Miami Beach's Ocean Drive.

    I happened to be on Ocean Drive that day - with my camera - and over the course of two or three hours I captured some images of movie-making magic that still endure to this day.

    I've written a story for MiamiBeach411.com about how I made those images. And I share few of my thoughts on why this film resonates with so many more than 25 years after its release. Click here to read the story.

    Friday, September 11, 2009

    Late night blues...Friday edition

    Muddy Waters & Sonny Boy Williamson, Got My Mojo Workin'

    Tuesday, September 08, 2009

    Republican Joe Watkins: as dumb as they come



    Look up 'simpleton' in the dictionary; there's probably a picture of Republican strategist Joe Watkins next to the definition.

    When I heard Watkins on MSNBC today following the president's mid-day speech to school children, I thought I was hallucinating..
    "Speaking with MSNBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman on Tuesday, Watkins insisted that President Barack Obama is too charismatic to give a speech to American students, arguing that parents should not have to “compete” with him for the 'hearts and minds' of their children."
    ...
    “[Obama] is one of the most gifted speakers that the world has ever seen.”

    “When he speaks, he speaks with tremendous authority and great conviction and with tremendous persuasion,” continued Watkins. “It’s one thing for him to talk to adults who have the ability to discern between right or wrong and whether they agree or disagree. The challenge becomes for parents when he talks to their kids without them present. The fact that he’s so persuasive, he’s campaigning almost for the hearts and minds of the kids.”
    ...
    “Moms and dads are just concerned that kids are gonna come home and question them,” [Watkins] said. “They don’t want to compete with the president for the hearts and minds.”
    NBC's Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd bitch slapped Watkins: "Joe, it sounds like you're worried the president's going to be too popular?"

    Maybe if President Obama had delivered a message similar in tone to one former president Bush delivered (see video below) a few years ago, Watkins would have been happier.

    Bush had a habit of often bragging about his mediocre grades throughout his presidency. But Republicans seem to have short memories when it comes to Dubya.

    Saturday, September 05, 2009

    Why is John Tanasychuk trying to kill Sun-Sentinel readers?



    John Tanasychuk is the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's restaurant critic.

    He also has a blog on the Sun-Sentinel's website where he posts short, "informative" blurbs about various South Florida restaurants and fast food joints.

    I use the word informative in quotes because the items he posts about fast food looks as though they're cut and paste jobs straight from press releases issued by various fast food conglomerates.

    The problem here is that a so-called "restaurant critic" is passing off press releases as news without even a trace of reporting.

    Take the most recent post on his blog for a 99 cent Sausage Biscuit at Dunkin' Donuts.

    It's only three paragraphs long. But Tanasychuk includes a factoid about the sandwich he says came straight from the press release about the sandwich.

    A visit to the Dunkin Donuts website shows that the 99 cent sausage biscuit is loaded with saturated fat and sodium. The sausage biscuit contains 1020mg of sodium or 43% of the recommended daily intake of sodium.

    Another recent post by Tanasychuk touts Fried Bologna Biscuits from Hardee's.

    Mmmmm, yummy!

    Tanasychuk reports that Hardee's introduced the breakfast item because of "pressure from its southern franchisees."

    But check out Hardee's web site and you'll find that they describe this southern-fried beauty as, "egg & cheese on top of a folded slice of fried Oscar Mayer® Bologna, all on our Made from Scratch™ biscuit."

    Just reading that is enough to make your arteries harden.

    And look at the numbers: 43 grams of fat, 13 grams of saturated fat, 230mg of cholesterol, and a whopping 1620 mg of sodium!


    Some studies show that nearly a third of all American are obese. But if people want commit slow-motion-suicide by eating this crap, so be it.

    But shouldn't they do it alone and without the help of some hack "food critic" who's shilling for fast food companies and passing it off as "journalism?"

    Friday, September 04, 2009

    ABC's Nightline visits Miami's bridge dwellers

    Click here for video report.

    Does God listen to Charlie Crist's prayers?


    Aren't we lucky to have Charlie Crist as Florida's governor?

    While other governors hike the Appalachian Trail, Charlie spends his spare time praying to God and asking Him to spare us from hurricanes.

    A few weeks ago Charlie revealed that he's been "putting prayer notes into the famous Western Wall in Jerusalem, asking God to protect his state from hurricanes."
    "Dear God, please protect our Florida from storms and other difficulties. Charlie."
    It must be working; we haven't been hit so far!

    But since he's also running for the Senate, he's apparently leaving nothing to chance and hedging all his bets.

    The St. Petersburg Times reports that Charlie visited the National Hurricane Center today:
    Tropical Storm Erika had fizzled and no potential disasters loomed in the Atlantic but Gov. Charlie Crist thought it a good time nonetheless to swing by the National Hurricane Center in Miami. The tropics have been calm so far but the peak of the hurricane season, Sept. 10, is still a week away, the governor said, and he wanted to remind residents to remain vigilant.

    "We've very blessed to have this season so far,'' he said. "I think so far is the operative word."

    The governor, who has announced that he will run for Senate next year, said that his brief visit with forecasters on Friday, covered by all four local television stations, wasn't a campaign ploy but part of his role to safeguard public health and welfare. It was vital, he said, to remind people about such things as preparing for hurricanes and washing their hands to prevent the spread of swine flu.

    Funny, he didn't say anything about plastic sheeting and duct tape.

    I've fallen and I can't get up!

    If someone hasn't emailed this to you already, don't worry....they will soon!

    Quite possibly the cutest doggie video ever!

    Tuesday, September 01, 2009

    That "doggie" ad

    Every now and then, something on TV rises above the clutter and the garbage.

    Lately it's been the ads.

    When I first saw this particular ad for State Street Global Advisors some weeks ago, I was awestruck.

    The look and feel of the spot is reminiscent of a French "new wave" film.

    Everything works: the stunning black and white photography by Joost van Gelder, the haunting soundtrack sung by Rosi Golan, the beautiful storyline and that dog.

    Oh, that dog!

    So thanks to everyone involved in producing this cinematic gem!

    I'm just one one voice out here in a vast wasteland - but I think recognize genius when I see it!

    Advertising Agency: The Gate Worldwide
    Executive Creative Director / Copywriter: David Bernstein
    Creative Director / Art Director: Bill Schwab
    Agency Producer: Bob Samuel
    Directors: The Guard Brothers
    Production Company: Smuggler
    Executive Producers: Patrick Milling Smith, Brian Carmody, Lisa Rich, Allison Kunzman
    Head of Production: Laura Thoel
    Producer: Gustav Geldenhuys
    Director of Photography: Joost Van Gelder
    Production Designer: Laura Pozzaglio
    Effects Company: Absolute Post
    VFX Supervisor / Lead flame artist: Dirk Greene
    Producer: Sally Heath
    Editorial Company: The Cutting Room
    Editor: Chuck Willis
    Music Company: Big Foote
    Composer: Darren Solomon
    Colorist: Fergus McCall, The Mill
    Sound Company: Sound Lounge
    Mixer: Peter